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Summer 2004 | Volume 26, Number 7 | Books & Film

Image Editor Explores Incarnational Power of Art and Imagination in New Book

PUBLISHED BY SQUARE HALO, Intruding Upon the Timeless is the first collection of its kind. It archives the introductory essays Seattle Pacific University writer-in-residence Gregory Wolfe has published in 15 years as editor of Image, the journal of the arts and religion housed at SPU. Flannery O’Connor, a sort of patron saint for Image’s editorial advisory board, inspired the book’s title, which describes what happens when an uncompromising artist employs art’s incarnational power.

The volume is a complex exploration, provoked by a simple conviction. “All art is incarnational,” Wolfe explains. “What the Incarnation — the union of divinity and humanity in Jesus Christ — represents is a perfect balance between heaven and earth, judgment and mercy, the concreteness of life and the spiritual realities. The imagination is a way of keeping a balance between the very fleshly realities of experience and the transcendent realities of grace and evil.”

For artists interested in spiritual exploration, the book’s arrival is reason to celebrate. Pulitzer Prize-winning author Annie Dillard writes, “Not since O’Connor’s Mystery and Manners has there been such bracing insight on the pile-up where art and faith collide.” Another Pulitzer winner, Robert Olen Butler, says, “Nobody does a better job of reconciling and synthesizing art and religion than Wolfe. His brilliant insight into the spiritual is founded on his understanding that artists and preachers are asking the same questions about the universe. [This] is an essential book for anyone who perceives — as Jesus did — that storytelling is the primary mode of understanding the infinite.”

Wolfe is well aware that his whirlwind tour of difficult issues — he calls it a “suggestive” rather than an “exhaustive” approach — may unsettle some Christian readers. For instance, he argues in the book that his fellow Christians have fallen into the habit of “base imitation,” plagiarizing popular culture and abandoning rich artistic traditions for dogmatic, formulaic, mediocre works. He also makes the point that artists and audiences should consider the plight of “the weaker brethren,” those who are easily troubled or tempted by provocative or challenging art, without letting the weaknesses of some hinder the explorations of others.

“People sometimes fear the imagination because it’s unpredictable, because it works by an intuitive leap,” says Wolfe. “For those familiar with such ‘intuitive leaps,’ this book may provide inspiration and a sense of community. And it may give courage to others who’d like to experience the imagination in a new way.”

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From the President
As Seattle Pacific University gains notice nationwide, President Philip Eaton challenges the community. “Build your city on a hill so everyone can see what you are doing,” he writes. “Build a reputation.”

Equipped for Success
An endowment helped 2003 graduate Vickerie Williams gain the confidence to become a key employee with Philips Medical Systems. [Campaign]

Honor Roles
A President’s Chapel in May honored five faculty and staff members for their individual excellence. [Campus]

Three Faculty Say Good-Bye
As they retire, three professors mark the completion of their remarkable careers at Seattle Pacific University and beyond. [Faculty]

The 2004 Medallion Awards
Alumni awards spotlight 10 Seattle Pacific graduates who have engaged the culture in various ways. [Alumni]

The Heritage Mile
Before her hip-replacement surgery, Doris Heritage and 200 of her students and friends ran a final mile together — and raised money for the Heritage Scholarship Endowment. [Athletics]

My Response
Debra Prinzing, 1981 SPU alumna, helps readers find God in their gardens. “… I think the pursuit of beauty in the garden is a pursuit to know God better,” she says.